Rev. Fulton Sheen D.D. Oracle at Adelphi by Fr. Leonard Feeny - Point Magazine 1953
THE ORACLE AT ADELPHI
The Most Reverend Fulton J. Sheen, D. D., star of the Du Mont television program Life is Worth Living, and winner of the award “TV Man of the Year,” is the inevitable outcome, the ultimate fruit, of teaching that there is salvation outside the Catholic Church. He has taken the belief that Heaven belongs to the ignorant and the sincere as surely as to the lovers of Our Lady and the receivers of Our Lord in Holy Communion, and has pushed it to its final, fantastic conclusion. For Bishop Sheen, who first won renown by his fashionable instruction of fashionable converts, has now decided to try a new line. He has abandoned preaching the Catholic Faith, and, to the five million people who wait expectantly for his message as it is broadcast from the Adelphi Theater each Tuesday night, he expounds something he feels is more needful and more consoling: his own philosophy.
This rejection of the dogmas of the Church in favor of his own ideas has been purposeful and assiduous, and Bishop Sheen wants there to be no misunderstanding about it. He has seen to it that no matter what magazine a person might pick up, he is certain to find in it an interview with the Bishop. And the recurrent theme in all these interviews, the one point about which Bishop Sheen is most anxious, is to dissociate himself, as far as his program goes, from any tinge of Catholicism. “Mine is not a religious program,” he proclaims, in his own imitable way: “I am speaking merely as a university lecturer.”
There is no denying, of course, that as a television message, Bishop Sheen’s has it all over the Catholic Faith. The mere fact that he is the most popular performer on television, whereas if he were preaching the Faith he would be off the air in two weeks, is proof enough of that. As to just what his message is, however, it is not easy to say. He seems to be concerned mainly with fighting such evils as “boredom” and “internal conflict;” in warning his listeners against psychoanalysis, while at the same time he diagnoses their ills in psychoanalytic terms; in urging his listeners to stop reading “Nietzsche one day and Freud the next and Sartre the next” (and some other writer they have never heard of the next), and to get themselves “an abiding philosophy of life.”
The purpose of his program, he says, is to make people “think.” And this might well be the secret of his popularity. For there is undoubtedly a certain scintillation in having the whole family sit around the television screen, thinking. And the Bishop’s style of presentation is exactly suited to the thinking of America’s television watchers. “If Christ is not God, then He is Anti-Christ.” This, though taken from his religious days, is a fair sample of the kind of cogent aphorism he gives his listeners to mull over.
But it is not so much what the Bishop says that makes his listeners sit up and take notice as his manner of saying it. For every utterance he makes, from the most dire warning of what will happen to the world if it does not let itself be healed by him, to the most inane description of the kind of paper he uses to make his notes on, is delivered in the manner of an over-done Hamlet reading from the Apocalypse.
Then, too, there are the well-publicized rumors of the Bishop’s asceticism — talk of hair shirts and holy hours and hot water for breakfast — all of which gives him an unmistakable glamour and manages to make him somehow as attractive as the more lusty entertainers in whose midst he appears.
It is ironical that, in addition to his television duties, Bishop Sheen also holds the office of National Director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. The purpose of this Society is to send missionaries into the farthest corners of the world so that everyone might hear the saving message of the Catholic Faith — the very message that Bishop Sheen, speaking each week to five million people, has discarded in favor of an utterly Faith-less message of his own.
HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE
When Our Lord gave His last instructions to His Apostles, He commissioned them to go forth into every nation, preaching the Gospel and baptizing those who believed. He did not ask of them that they be successful, as the world measures success. But if He had, the man who would be best fulfilling Our Lord’s commission would be Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.
Bishop Sheen has done what no other priest has been able to do, though some notable ones have tried: he has made himself a hit with Americans. And what is more, he has done this, not on the Church’s terms, as a preacher of the Catholic Faith; he has done it on America’s terms, as an entertainer on television, in free competition with other television entertainers.
While it is true that the Bishop’s amazing popularity is largely due to the applause of Catholics, still, the ease with which he has become familiar as Uncle Fultie and the Face on the Barroom Screen shows that he has made a hit with Protestants and Jews as well. Indeed, so general has the Bishop’s popularity been, and so overwhelming, that he can well serve as a model for other priests who might want to become successful. As a service for such readers, as well as for those who are merely curious to know what Bishop Sheen has done and how he has done it, The Point has taken advantage of the lull provided by his summer vacation to make a careful analysis of his technique; and herewith it makes its report.
The first thing that strikes you about Bishop Sheen’s message is that he never allows himself to be tied down by any narrow sectarianism. He is never too specifically Catholic. He is not so much a proponent of the one, true Faith as a proponent of Religion. Here is the way he has summarized the world’s spiritual ills, as they have grown worse through the centuries: “In the sixteenth century,” he says, “we denied belief in the Church; in the seventeenth, the inspiration of Sacred Scripture; in the eighteenth, the Divinity of Christ; in the nineteenth, the existence of God; and in the twentieth, the necessity of Religion.”
Being not merely an apt student of history, but a very perceptive philosopher as well, Bishop Sheen has been quick to sense that in trying to restore these values priority must be given to those most recently lost. The modern world must be convinced first of the necessity of Religion, and after that of the existence of God, etc. The farthest the Bishop generally gets in this journey toward Faith and the Middle Ages, is the nineteenth century. Once he has succeeded in exposing the position of the atheist as being theoretically absurd and practically impossible, Bishop Sheen is inclined to let up. As long as a man gives evidence of being somehow for God, the Bishop will not press him to tell how he feels about Christ.
Protestants and Jews enjoy listening to Bishop Sheen because they can always relax when doing so. They know they will never hear anything from him to upset them — no insinuations that his religion is any better than theirs, no remarks calculated to make them feel that they ought to become Catholics. Rather, he gives them a new appreciation of their own faith and fires them with a determination to be better Protestants and better Jews than ever. He even tells them how to do this. For instance, in a pamphlet he wrote, entitled “What Can I Do?”, Bishop Sheen tells everyone how to practice better his own faith and thus unite all Americans in “a common love of God.” He tells Protestants to practice fidelity to the marriage bond and give their children instruction in their Protestant religion. He urges Jews to do their bit by keeping the Ten Commandments. And he asks Catholics to show that they do not belong to this world by giving good example.
The effect of such appeals is to make Protestants and Jews feel delighted to find that a Catholic bishop approves of their Protestantism and Judaism and wants to strengthen them in it, while at the same time it lets Catholics know, by a certain added intimacy that only they will notice, that they are really his special favorites.
Despite the publicity he has received as a convert-maker, Bishop Sheen would never suggest on radio or television that his non-Catholic listeners ought to come into the Church. The Bishop has had long experience speaking on the air, and he knows that such suggestions are not allowed. That is why he prefers to make his appeal more for a return to generic religion than for a return to the Catholic Faith. On those occasions when he is forced to become organizationally specific and refer to the Church, he is very careful to present it in such a way that no one could possibly consider his remarks offensive to other religions. The mission of the Church, as presented by Bishop Sheen, is not so much to save souls — he seldom mentions eternal salvation at all — as to eliminate the need for a psychoanalyst and to provide a consistent philosophy of life. He is not so much concerned with those aspects of truth that belong to the Faith alone as with those that have a larger heritage. It is the morals, the ethics, and the logic of the Faith that he prefers to emphasize — those things that came to Christianity from the pagan Greeks rather than those things that came to it from Christ.
In an article in Cosmopolitan magazine, Bob Considine tells how he asked Bishop Sheen if he ever eliminated certain Catholic dogmas that might scare off Protestant and Jewish viewers of his television program. The Bishop’s answer illustrates perfectly the attitude he takes in presenting the Faith: “There is nothing in my television sermons,” he replied, “that one cannot find in Aristotle.” This pre-Christian outlook on Christianity accounts for the fact that, although Bishop Sheen holds the title of U. S. director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, there is only one thing that ever gets propagated to the U. S. Protestants and Jews who watch the Bishop on television, and that is his own personality.
2 Thessalonians 2:9-12: “Whose coming is according to the working of Satan, in all power, and signs, and lying wonders, And in all seduction of iniquity to them that perish; because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. Therefore God shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying. That all may be judged who have not believed the truth, but have consented to iniquity.”
A sign at Bayside, but not a sign from Heaven
Prophecy of Marie Julie Jahenny, Briton Stigmatist (1891): “During the time of the approach of the punishments announced at La Salette, an unlimited amount of false revelations will arise from Hell like a swarm of flies; a last attempt of Satan to choke and destroy the belief in the true revelations by false ones.”
Matthew 24:24-25: “Then if any man shall say to you: Lo here is Christ, or there, do not believe him. For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect. Behold I have told it to you, before hand. If therefore they shall say to you: Behold He is in the desert, go ye not out: Behold He is in the closets, believe it not.”